The CheckMat team is coming into the 2012 Worlds with guns blazing. Jiu-Jitsu black belt stars Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, Lucas Leite, João Assis, Yuri Simoes, Antonio “Cara de Sapato” Carlos, Jr., Marcelo “Lapela” Mafra, Marco “Sharpei” Machado, Ricardo “Pantcho” Feliciano, Carlos Holando, and brown belt Renato Cardoso were a few of the heavy hitters training on the mats at the CheckMat school in Upland, California, preparing for their upcoming 2012 Worlds matches. With so many champions on the mats at one time, it was no surprise to see them throwing down and going at it like they were competing for the gold at that very moment. Black belt João Assis walked off the mats laughing about it, “There is a lot of testosterone in the room right now!”
Although João has no expectations going into the Worlds this year, he’s going to be ready for his super heavy competition, no matter who they may be. “I know everyone in my division is super tough,” he says, “Everyone deserves a lot of attention.” João says he was injured in his recent tournaments, and because of it he hasn’t been able to put forth his best efforts. He still has a couple issues he’s going to be fighting through at the Worlds, but says nothing is going to deter him from working towards his dreams of winning gold. “I’m trying to work on sweeps, takedowns and subs, but you know… you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” he laughs. “I’ve been training every day at CheckMat and also doing a lot of yoga. I’m working on my wrestling and conditioning with the Kings MMA guys. I’ve had the hardest and most intense training of my life there. I feel stronger with all my training. So, all I have to say is, ‘Good luck to whoever I’m going to face, because they’re gonna need it!”
The exceptionally talented Yuri received his black belt on December 31, 2011, and has already made a statement on the tournament scene, winning his weight at the Pan and defeating world champion Rafael Lovato Jr. in the process. He then closed out the bracket in the open with his friend and mentor Lucas Leite. Then he won both his weight and the open at the Phoenix Open. Tally up all his world class brown belt wins and you know you have a guy who is a threat to everyone in his heavyweight division at the Worlds this year. Although this is Yuri’s first Worlds as a black belt, he is not intimidated in the least. He expects to win gold, and in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the seemingly undefeatable Rodolfo Vieira is in his division. “Rodolfo is my friend,” Yuri says, “I don’t wish to fight him, but he understands. It’s our profession.” Yuri is excited to compete against so many great athletes at the Worlds. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time,” the 21-year-old says, “Rodolfo, Tussa, Tarsis, Lovato…I take their presence in my division as motivation and I will treat every match like it’s a final. I have to because if I don’t, I may lose. I’m very careful with each opponent I face, even if I’ve never seen them before. I’m especially careful with them.” Yuri has been training hard for this upcoming opportunity and says he has never felt better in his life. “I’ve been training Sunday to Sunday,” he says, “For the first time I realize I have a chance to be the best. I’m very motivated and I feel great! This is my main dream in life. To win gold at the Worlds as a black belt.”
Antonio “Cara de Sapato” Carlos, Jr.
Cara de Sapato won silver at the Pan after closing out his division with his world champion teammate Bochecha. He’s currently dividing his time between going to university and training Jiu-Jitsu, and has plans to do MMA soon, but in the meantime he’s focusing hard on his Worlds training and he’s made some adjustments to his game, which he hopes is going to help him this weekend. “I was competing at heavy, but now I’m competing at super heavy,” he says. “The guys have so much power but are slower, and my game is really fast. I’ve changed some of my techniques because of it. My game is on the bottom, and no one does it in super heavy. I’ve been working hard on the details of my game.” Some of the big men in his division include: Xande Ribeiro, Bernardo Faria, Leonardo Nogueira, and his teammate João Assis. This is Cara de Sapato’s second Worlds. Last year he came in third in the heavyweight division, but he had a rib injury, so he wasn’t able to perform at his best. This year he still has some lingering ailments, but overall, he says he feels good. Cara de Sapato says he does study his competitors’ games, but more than anything else, he just tries to focus on his own. “I have so many friends in Jiu-Jitsu,” he says. “I’m kind of a quiet guy. I know everyone and I like everyone. No one wants to fight friends, but I will try to win this year. I will give it my best.” As an aside, the CheckMat team informed GRACIEMAG that “Cara de Sapato” means “shoe-face” as in, “he looks good from far away, but up close, not so much.” For the record, someone named him wrong. He looks just fine from both distances!
Watch the mat wizards in training:
Ricardo “Pantcho” Feliciano
Every team needs its “cheerleader.” You know, that selfless guy who leads the team with his passion, his leadership, his coaching abilities, and his dedication to keeping the team cohesive and running smoothly. That guy on the CheckMat team is none other than Ricardo “Pantcho.” Pantcho has been a black belt for many years and can be seen competing at all the tournaments on the circuit, but more than anything else, he can be seen and heard coaching and instructing CheckMat and Team Quest students from white belt up to black. This ultra heavy competitor has had his own taste of glory in life, but feels it’s time to pass the torch to his teammates. That being said, he has every intention of loyally walking side by side with them throughout all their journeys. “I’m going to compete at the Worlds this year for the experience, and to just have fun,” he says. “I’m really going to help my teammates.” Last year at the 2011 No-Gi Worlds, Pantcho came in second place, losing to Roberto Cyborg in the finals. Pantcho works more on his no-gi game than his gi game these days because he is the Jiu-Jitsu coach at Team Quest to UFC #1 light heavyweight contender Dan “Hendo” Henderson. “I’ve been really busy training Dan for his September fight against Jon “Bones” Jones,” Pantcho says. “Dan’s mind is so strong. He believes he’s going to win. He has good hands, his wrestling and ground and pound are amazing. We roll a lot. I work on his guards, escapes and subs. He’s hard to sweep. He’s helped my wrestling a lot.” Pantcho says his takedowns and base have improved tremendously because of his training with Dan, but these days, his focus is simply more on being a good coach and teammate. “I teach a lot now,” he says. “I help my teammates of all belts. I coach everyone and help everyone. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about CheckMat and Team Quest. The CheckMat team has been focused and training a lot. We’ve had a good camp and I expect great results at the Worlds.”
Marco “Sharpei” Machado
Marco “Sharpei” will be fighting at medium heavy at the 2012 Worlds and plans on fighting just in his division. “I’m going to do my best,” he says. “We have the best team, so I know everything will be good for us.” Sharpei doesn’t like to check the brackets before he competes, but in particular he doesn’t at the Worlds because he already knows going in that every match is going to be tough. “All my matches will be difficult, and if everything goes right I will have a lot of them,” he laughs. Sharpei has never won the black belt division at the Worlds. Last year he came in third. However, he won the open class at the 2011 American Nationals and the 2012 Phoenix Open. “My training has been the best it could be for the Worlds this year,” he says, “CheckMat has the best team in the world, so I’m excited to see everyone on the podium this year!”
Renato read GRACIEMAG’s article on the top 10 Jiu-Jitsu athletes to watch at the Worlds and not being on that list has now motivated him to get on it. Renato has flown in from Brazil to make a name for himself in the U.S. because he’s already got a big one back home. The middle division brown belt recently won his division at the Brazilian Nationals – five fights with five finishes, but lost to Orlando Sanchez in the open in the quarterfinals (Orlando made GRACIEMAG’s “top 10” list). However, at the Pan, he had nine fights in his division and the open and he won all nine with subs. As for the upcoming Worlds, Renato says he is going to fight in both his division and the open, and he will be looking for different results in the absolute, putting Orlando Sanchez and all the other brown belts on notice. It should be noted that Benny Dariush, who also made GRACIEMAG’s top 10 list, is in Renato’s division. “I know there are great fighters in my division, but I am ready,” he says. “I’m coming to win. I believe I’m going to finish all my fights. I fight for subs.” Renato says he is not concerned about who is in his bracket, because he plans on fighting his own game. “I expect to do what Bochecha did as a brown belt in 2010,” Renato says, “I’m going to win my weight and the open.”